Tag Archives: Enid Blyton

Dorothy Savidge; The Woman Books Built

On Wednesday this week we all said our final goodbyes to Granny Savidge Reads, aka Dorothy Savidge. I thought I would share the speech I gave as part of her eulogy with you all as it is fitting and also because it does show the importance of books in people’s lives. You can also hear Gran talking about books in an episode of The Readers that I recorded with three generations of the reading Savidge’s here. Thank you all so, so, so, so much for your comments, emails and tweets about Gran, the support has meant so much to me and my family. Savidge Reads will be back properly on August the 1st, I will leave this as a fitting interim post until then…

To say that my Gran, Dorothy, quite liked a book would be something of an understatement. She loved books. Gran once said that “one of the wonderful things about books is that despite reading being a solitary activity, in the main they can bring you together with other people”. Gran proved this often, with family, friends, neighbours, people in libraries younger than her whom she then founded book groups with, potential son in laws who liked Philip Kerr and random strangers on her travels. You name them, Gran could talk books with them.

The other thing she said recently was that “books can have the power to educate people and make you walk in their footsteps”. She would often read veraciously about places she was going to before she went and sometimes read a guide book so closely you would have to remind her she was actually in the place she was reading about. Yet Gran didn’t come from a bookish background, she was predominately a self taught reader.

Gran grew up in a house that only had three books, though a saving grace was that one of those was ‘Gone With The Wind’. Her father was away at war, her mum busy with all Gran’s siblings and so it was her eldest brother Derrick who would read Rupert Bear adventures to her and her younger brother Gordon from the Daily Express. However on his return from the war her father took Gran to the library often, it was there that she discovered the page turning addiction that is Enid Blyton and the adventures of the Famous Five.

From the library Gran progressed to Broadhurst’s book shop, which is still running, in Southport. Gran said “I couldn’t afford the books but I could sit in the corner and read, hopefully hidden”. She wasn’t as well hidden as she thought, thanks to a kindly bookshop owner though Gran was allowed to sit and read as she pleased from ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ onwards.

I don’t know much about Gran’s reading life when she was courting my Grandfather, Bongy, and had moved away from home to the suburbs of London. I do know that he influenced her reading, partly with his love of Anthony Trollope and how often he re-read ‘Barchester Towers’ which Gran soon caught. I also know that a discussion with Bongy made Gran read Hardy as, for some unfathomable reason, he mentioned there was a book in which a man sold his wife at a market like she was cattle’. Make of that what you will but it certainly made Gran read ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ even if out of incredulity.

Reading to her children Louise, Caroline, Alice and Matthew and helping them learn to read was something which gave Gran a great amount of joy. My mother, Louise, can remember hours with Peter and Jane and ‘This is Pat. Meet Pat the dog. Watch Pat run’ a little too well. It was the same with her grandchildren. I remember many an occasion cuddling up to Gran with a good story, even until quite recently. I still get that same feeling of excitement walking into a Waterstones as I did as a child. Trips to Scarthin Books with Gran have been a highlight of the last twenty years, or more, of my life.

Gran and I bonded over lots of things, books were a particularly constant source of conversation. She could be a book snob on occasion, only months ago asking if I had thought of reading ‘anything of any actual worth’ this year, scary. She often broke this snobbery though, sometimes by force like when she had to read all Philip Pullman’s ‘Northern Lights’ trilogy as Bongy had done the awful thing of only allowing Gran to pack four books for a whole four weeks away… she unashamedly cried her way through the final book by the pool, secretly loving every moment of it.

Mainly her love of reading was infectious. I’ve Gran to thank for my love of Kate Atkinson, Andrea Levy, Margaret Atwood and many, many others. Sometimes her enthusiasm could also be overzealous. For example when I was about halfway through the aforementioned Margaret Atwood’s complex and lengthy tome, ‘The Blind Assassin’, Gran suddenly said ‘Oh that is the book where **** happens at the end isn’t it?’ Then the awkward silence followed before an ‘oops’.

No matter what was going on in our lives, good, bad or indifferent, we could talk books and did so several times a week. She was always up for recommending something or have something recommended to her. Though I have recently noticed that a copy of a Barbara Cartland novel I bought her as a slight joke over a decade ago is still looking rather pristine.
It was the challenge of wanting to try new books and her love of discussion and bookish debate that led Gran to book groups. Some might say that joining three was slightly excessive, not for Gran. It seems she was a popular member of the groups whether she co-founded them or simply joined them. “Her opinion on a book was always looked forward to, even if sometimes with baited breath” her fellow member Jim told me. She was often seen as something of a book encyclopaedia, often called upon to name an author or book title that had slipped someone else’s mind. Invariably Gran would know exactly what they meant.

In the last few months I know it was hard with Gran not being able to read so much. I tried reading her new favourite series to her, unlike her big brother Derrick I didn’t do the voices and so in the end we had to settle with the audio book or episodes of The Archers.

Books still brought her joy in other ways during this time. Be it talking with friends and family about books or recommending them. We had marvellous discussions with nurses at various hospitals about books including a lengthy one at the Whitworth where we discussed what happened to the books in our heads. Did we just see the words, hear voices or watch a film playing in front of our eyes? There were also all the friends who visited who she had made through books and via book groups and all the laughter and smiles that they brought with them.

Gran’s reading legacy will live on through her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren when they arrive one day. Also through all the friendships that she made through books and reading and the book groups she started and joined. She loved getting any book recommendation, so on behalf of Gran, when you can, go and pick up one of her favourite authors, Graham Greene.

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Other People’s Bookshelves #1: Dorothy Savidge aka Granny Savidge Reads

A while back I said I wanted volunteers for a new series of posts called ‘Other People’s Bookshelves’, as you may know things have been a bit manic of late and so I simply haven’t gotten back to anyone who said yes (I will be emailing you all though, you have been warned) as yet. Though when I was sat chatting with Gran I suddenly thought ‘ooh, I must get her to do Other People’s Bookshelves. She seemed the perfect person to start it off with. So instead of emailing her the questionnaire, as she is quick on an iPad with one hand but not for too long, I thought I would ask her over a cup of tea, and she trusted me enough that my notes would ‘sound like me, and not like you’. So here goes…

Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I used to keep all of my books on one set of bookshelves, whether I had read them or not, though eventually they became full and so I have had to change it. Mainly the ones in the lounge are the ones that I have read though I think there are some exceptions, Barbara Cartland for instance which I think you bought me because I had never read her and for some reason I felt I should. Funnily enough I still haven’t read that one. I don’t keep every book I read but then I don’t buy every book I read now.

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Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

Alphabetical order yes, well except non-fiction. As I mentioned I used to keep them all together on one set of shelves but now they are almost overflowing. So now though new books tend to go in the study, by my bed or in a pile in the lounge or dining room now. Oh, and I keep my non-fiction separate. As for culling… once a year I tend to have a tidy up.

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I don’t think so, no. It would have been an Enid Blyton novel though I would imagine, probably one of the Famous Five. I have a few here but I doubt they are the original that I bought.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

I do not! Have a separate bookshelf I mean, no shame. I don’t tend to feel guilty about books, it seems a silly idea, books are to be enjoyed. I would be more ashamed if I didn’t have any books at all, imagine! Oh… well there is that Barbara Cartland we mentioned.

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Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick, your brother, gave me as a child? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

I thought that was a bit of an odd question at first. Uncle Derrick would be delighted about you still having that book I am sure. As for prized books, I don’t think I have any fictional ones, most you can replace and fiction is a wide subject, how can people say they have a ‘favourite’ single book. I would save some of your Grandfather’s, Bongy’s, art books as some of them are quite rare, if battered. Yes, those I would save in a fire.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

Hmmm. ‘Eastern Approaches’ by Fitzroy Mclaine, which has become a classic, I have now read it and really enjoyed it. There was an edition of ‘Home Doctor’ I used to be intrigued by though I never read that but do have a modern version of sorts. Oh and Margaret Mitchell’s ‘Gone With The Wind’ which I started to read in my teens whenever I was sick, I have that on my shelves now but I think it is the only one of them. I suppose actually I would like the editions of those I remember on my shelves.

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If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I wouldn’t buy a book after I had read it unless I really, really loved it. I doubt it. Especially now the shelves are so full. It would have to be really special. I try and borrow books from the library or from friends now, or get them from a certain family member. I would only buy a book now if I heard it was a real classic, like ‘The Good Soldier Svejk’ by Jaroslav Hasek which is a classic no one seems to like. It is rare though. You don’t have to own a book to remember how much you love it do you, unless I suppose you plan on reading it again one day.

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

I think it would be someone else who would have added them to my shelves now I suppose. It was Journey’s End… no, ‘The Casual Vacancy’ by J.K. Rowling which you gave me. I liked it, it got better again by the end.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Apart from some really antique ones, or editions from my childhood, no not really. I think I am quite lucky in the fact I could get any I really wanted, should I need to. Oh actually… I wish I had all the books I have lent people and they have not returned.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

That I was “discriminating, but universal in taste”.

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A big thank you to Gran for letting me grill her, and trusting my note taking and typing up not to be too different to what she said or would have liked to have written if she could. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Gran’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?

*Note: I know lots of you emailed about taking part in this, I am struggling to find these emails, could you email me again? Sorry, very embarrassed!*

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Savidge Reads Grills… Sophie Hannah

Sometimes you just have to be a little bit cheeky and when I emailed some of my favourite authors about books they would recommend for the summer I then cheekily followed it up with ‘you wouldn’t want to do a Savidge Reads Grills too would you?’ One of the authors who instantly said ‘yes’ was Sophie Hannah who has become a favourite with me ever since Polly of Novel Insights told me I simply had to read the short story collection ‘The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets’ (when I was a bit vaguer in my reviewing) and then I moved onto her rather addictive crime series, the latest of which ‘A Room Swept White’ comes out in paperback today, what a pleasant coincidence…

For those people who haven’t read any of your series (we can call it a series, can’t we?) of crime novels as yet, can you try and explain them in a single sentence?
They are psychological suspense novels with a police procedural element.  That was the single sentence; now here are some more sentences, because I’m a rebel and hate doing what I’m told: the mysteries in my novels tend to be ‘high-concept’, because I love impossible-seeming scenarios which are then made possible.  I might also describe them as emotional-psychological mysteries.  The mystery element is crucial to me – as a reader of crime fiction, the main thing I want is to be desperate to turn the pages and find out what’s going on, and so that’s the feeling I try to create in my books.  I have heard some crime writers say that their main aim is to make a political point or discuss social issues, or dissect contemporary Britain/America/Belgium (er, actually, no one says it about Belgium) in their crime novels, but I am all about story.  A great novel can manage without a politically relevant theme, but it can’t manage without a fantastic plot and complex, interesting, problematic characters (though it often thinks it can and it sometimes wins the Booker Prize for thinking so!)

They are all very different.  How does each book come about?  Where are the ideas born? 
Firstly, I’m so glad you think my books are all very different!  One of the challenges of writing a series – and, yes, they are a series, even though they are also standalones, because I like to have my cake and eat it! – is to make each book sufficiently different to the others so that readers don’t get bored, at the same time as making them similar enough to reassure readers that they are still in the same imaginative world. 

For example, Ruth Rendell can move from London to Kings Markham and back again in her fiction, and that’s interesting and creates a healthy sense of variety within her oeuvre, but if she suddenly wrote a novel set in Nashville in which all the protagonists were Stetson-wearing country and western singers, I might (as one of her avid readers) feel rather alarmed! 

To answer your question (ahem!), the ideas almost all come from my own life and (extensive) suffering.  So, I once nearly mixed up my baby with another baby (Little Face), once had a very problematic relationship with my mother-in-law (Little Face), many times have fallen in love with poisonous narcissistic tossers (Hurting Distance), have been a stressed and bitter mother of small children, wondering who invented the strange form of torture known as parenthood (The Point of Rescue), have been and still am obsessed with art and doomed love (The Other Half Lives).  In fact, the only one of my books that was not inspired by my own life was the latest one, A Room Swept White – that’s about controversial cot-death murder cases, and was inspired by true stories such as those of Sally Clark, Angela Cannings, Trupti Patel and others.  Though even in that book, there’s an autobiographical element – although, since the book is so new, I’m still at the stage of pretending the autobiographical bits are fiction! 

Do you find it hard thinking of the impossible and then making it possible?
Yes, I find it very hard – but that’s the challenge.  And you’ve neatly summarised my mission statement as a writer – well, almost.  It’s not so much about finding the impossible and making it possible, it’s about demonstrating, via gripping stories, that what most people believe is impossible is actually possible.  In our lives, we often say, ‘But that’s impossible’, or ‘I just can’t believe it’ – but once you know the full story, suddenly it’s a lot more believable.  I have a plausibility test that I use for all my plots, which is, ‘Could this story happen once?’  If the answer is yes, then the story is plausible, in my view.  Whereas I think, for a lot of people, plausible means, ‘Does this happen regularly and have I been told about endless instances of it by Huw Edwards on the BBC news?’

Do you mind your books being labelled crime, as they are more than that really, aren’t they? The fit into the Kate Atkinson and Susan Hill world of literary crime…
I certainly don’t mind my novels being labelled as crime – it’s a label I’m proud to wear.  As a reader, I like being able to head straight for the crime section of a bookshop, knowing I will find books there that contain mysteries.  I know a lot of writers protest about being labelled, but it’s useful for people buying the books if they are divided into categories.  ‘Crime Fiction’ is a category that contains, as you say, writers like Kate Atkinson, Susan Hill, Barbara Vine, Karin Alvtegen, all of whom are great writers.  I’m slightly uncomfortable with the idea of anyone’s crime novels being ‘more than’ crime fiction, because that suggests there’s a limit to what a crime novel can be, and I don’t believe there is.  Look at Iris Murdoch’s ‘The Black Prince’ – undoubtedly a crime novel, and also one of the best novels ever written, full of depth and substance and ideas.  I like to think that my novels are novels as well as crime novels – just as a Calzone is an Italian meal as well as a pizza.

Your novels are becoming a TV series – how much involvement are you having with it? Was it hard to say yes, because it’s something you created? Who would be your dream cast?
I’m hardly involved at all – I’ve had the odd lunch and phone call with the TV people, and they send me updates, but I’m definitely at one remove.  I feel rather like a parent of a child at boarding school, and Hat Trick and ITV1 are the house master and…  Hm, this metaphor’s getting too complicated.  It wasn’t hard to say yes – I love the idea of the books being adapted for telly.  The telly versions will be very different, but that’s fine, because the books will still exist.  My dream cast?  Well, the cast is being assembled at this very moment, so I know almost definitely who is going to play Charlie Zailer for example (can’t say, I’m afraid, in case it falls through!).  My dream cast will be the actual cast, once I know who they are.  I will be so chuffed that they are willing to play my characters – it’d be outrageous of me to prefer anyone else to them.

Are you working on any poetry at the moment? Have you always wanted to write both fiction and poetry or does one have a particular place in your heart over the other?
I am writing the occasional poem at the moment, but mainly I’m concentrating my energies on my crime fiction.  This isn’t as unfair as it sounds – I have written hundreds of poems, if not thousands, and only six crime novels so far, so I think a little bit of positive discrimination is in order!

Do you think that having two rather literary parents has anything to do with you becoming a writer either by genetics or the environment you grew up in?
Genetics – I doubt it.  Environment?  Yes, definitely.  Everyone in my family was and is obsessed with books.  I was a writer waiting to happen.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Was it an easy thing for you to do?
I was never aware of wanting to be a professional writer – writing was simply my hobby, what I did when I was supposed to be doing school work, college work, university work and then, later, secretarial work.  I never had the chance to want to write, because I was always writing.  Then, at a certain point, people started to suggest to me that I should send stuff off to publishers, and I did – and it was great when my work started to reach an audience, but I don’t remember ever thinking, ‘I’d like to be a writer.’  It sort of happened organically.  I always assumed I would never make any money from writing, and that was fine – and then, when I started to earn my living as a writer, that was even better.  But I will always write, whether people pay me to do so or not – I’m obsessed with writing.

How long have you been writing for? Which books and authors inspired you to write?       
I think I wrote my first poem when I was six.  It began, ‘However young, however old/a bear will never catch a cold’.  My free-verse-loving detractors might argue that my style hasn’t evolved much since then!  Many, many authors have inspired and continue to inspire me: Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, Daphne DuMaurier, Iris Murdoch, Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, Karin Alvtegen, Jill McGown, Wendy Cope, Edna St Vincent Millay, George Herbert, Robert Frost, E.E Cummings, CH Sisson, Douglas Kennedy, Diane Setterfield, Robert Goddard, Jesse Kellerman, Nicci French…  Oh, and my favourite newish writer: Tana French, who is absolutely brilliant.  I would advise anyone who cares about fiction and crime fiction to read her latest, ‘Faithful Place’.

Are there any books you wish you had written yourself?
No – because I’d rather read my favourite books, in awe of the writers, than have written them myself and be unable to see them clearly and appreciate them.  One’s own books are always viewed through a veil of neurosis!

Which contemporary authors do you rate who are writing right now?
Everyone on the above list who isn’t dead, plus: Jane Hill, Sophie Kinsella, Tim Parks, Geoff Dyer, M R Hall – there are so many!

Describe your typical writing routine, do you have any writers quirks or any writing rituals?
I write between 11 am and 7 pm, with an hour’s break for lunch – weekdays only, unless there’s a deadline emergency!  Since giving up smoking, I have taken to chewing a needle while I write.  It’s a mental thing to do, but it’s non-carcinogenic.

How relevant do you think book blogging is to the publishing industry? Do you ever pop and see what people have thought of your books or is it something you avoid at all costs?
You’re asking the wrong person!  I regularly complain that I can’t put a video tape into a machine any more and record TV programmes, and when people start talking to me about SkyPlus I nod and smile, but have no clue what they’re talking about.  I’m not against new digital thingies, but I’m too busy to find out what they are or take part in them – so I’m stuck with the technology that existed before I became too busy.  But I do sometimes read blogs, especially yours, because you say nice things about my books.  I also find time to surf property websites, I’m a Phil and Kirstie addict…

What is next for Sophie Hannah?
Funnily enough, my next thriller (out next Feb) has a property website theme.  It’s called ‘Lasting Damage’.  Here’s the blurb: It’s 1.15 a.m. Connie Bowskill should be asleep. Instead, she’s logging on to a property website in search of a particular house: 11 Bentley Grove, Cambridge. She knows it’s for sale; she saw the estate agent’s board in the front garden less than six hours ago.

Soon Connie is clicking on the ‘Virtual Tour’ button, keen to see the inside of 11 Bentley Grove and put her mind at rest once and for all. She finds herself looking at a scene from a nightmare: in the living room there’s a woman lying face down in a huge pool of blood. In shock, Connie wakes her husband Kit. But when Kit sits down at the computer to take a look, he sees no dead body, only a pristine beige carpet in a perfectly ordinary room…

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